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Blog Entries Poverty Sermons

Beastly Economics & King's Vision for the Poor People's Campaign

“…we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. We must rapidly begin the shift from a “thing‐oriented” society to a “person‐oriented” society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered…True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar; it is not haphazard and superficial. It comes to see that an edifice, which produces beggars needs restructuring. A true revolution of values will soon look uneasily on the glaring contrast of poverty and wealth…A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.”

—Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. “Beyond Vietnam” (April 1967)

This is a sermon I gave at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Greensboro on 2020-01-19.

Today, I want to talk to you about two things that may at first seem unrelated – Martin Luther King and the Mark of the Beast from the book of Revelation.

I know the concept of the Mark of the Beast has been greatly misused, misinterpreted, and misaligned by Christians over the years, but before you crawl out of your skin or run out give me a few seconds to try and show you why it has been misinterpret it so badly.

As you’ve already heard this morning, I’ve been researching and writing on the book of Revelation for sometime and have just published a book on the subject called, “Resisting Empire: The Book of Revelation.”

My argument is that we need to reject the “evacuation theology,” (ht Rob Bell) version of Revelation. You know the one where people in the church says, “Who cares, it’s all going to burn anyway, and we – the people who are on the right side of this theology – are going to escape.”

Revelation interpreted this way is a text used to predict not only some future trauma, violence, and scapegoating of those the elect deem wicked.

If you follow the path of an “evacuation theology” interpretation then you can displace the Mark of the Beast into some future person or technology, a chip, a credit card, a country’s leader (usually some other country’s leader), etc. All we need to do is identify whoever has the mark and then we’ll know they’re a bad guy or are doing bad things. But this makes it way to easy to dismiss what it is actually saying.

I see Revelation being about how a marginalized group of faithful people were being guided to resist the Roman Empire at the end of the first century. It had nothing to do with evacuation theology and everything to do with resisting, surviving, and not assimilating into empire. Here you the early church made up predominately of Jewish and Gentile Christians living under Roman occupation. As Jews, as Christians, as the poor, they were themselves the marginalized. And Revelation tells them that God is with them, God is on their side, and that their work was to resist empire and follow God no matter the cost.

This is a very different reading of Revelation that what we’re used to isn’t it?

If we look back at it then, the Mark of the Beast is not about a little birthmark or an implanted chip, it is a critique of an entire economic system that is set to exploit the many for the benefit of a few. Revelation is unveiling and critiquing the economics of empire, arguing that it is out of alignment with what God intends for the world. In fact, Revelation 13 mostly uses the language of “image of the beast,” rather than “mark” to say that these kinds of imperial systems try to make people into its own image. To be make in the image of the beast is something extremely different than to be made in the image of God.

As it says in Chapter 13:

15 those who would not worship the image of the beast [would] be slain. 16 Also it causes all, both small and great, both rich and poor, both free and slave, to be marked on the right hand or the forehead, 17 so that no one can buy or sell unless he has the mark…

Rev. 13 is an ancient critique of an economic system that is based on exploitation, one that is far-reaching and impacts everyone, and one that is opposed to how God intended the world to work.

Unless you go along with the “beastly economics of empire” you will not have the right to buy and sell, and are liable to be killed.

Credit http://kairoscenter.org/

Beastly Economics in our Day and Age

Let’s turn now to Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. If you’ll go back with me to March 18, 1968. On that day, King visited Marks, Mississippi. There he witnessed devastating poverty. Marks was at that time located in the poorest county in the country and what King witnessed there moved him to tears. While touring Marks, he witnessed school children who had nothing more than one slice of an apple and a couple crackers to eat all day and other children without basic needs like shoes. It is well-chronicled that King wept as he walked through the streets of Marks.

You know it is beastly economics when Children living in the richest country in the world go without basic necessities.

A couple days later he announced what he called the Poor People’s Campaign saying:

“We’re coming to Washington in a poor people’s campaign. I was in Marks, Miss., the other day, which is in Quitman County, the poorest county in the United States. And I tell you I saw hundreds of black boys and black girls walking the streets with no shoes to wear.”

How A Mule Train From Marks, Miss., Kicked Off MLK’s Poor People Campaign

The Poor People’s Campaign was to be a fusion of the poor in this country across race lines; people caravanning across the country to setup camp on the Mall in DC and create a city they called “Resurrection City.” There they would form a committee of 100 people to lobby for an economic Bill of Rights with five planks, including:

  • “A meaningful job at a living wage”
  • “A secure and adequate income” for all those unable to find or do a job
  • “Access to land” for economic uses
  • “Access to capital” for poor people and minorities to promote their own businesses
  • Ability for ordinary people to “play a truly significant role” in the government

King knew that beastly economics needed to be challenged, resisted, and corrected. He understood that underlying the creation America’s economic system was slave labor that has persisted and disadvantaged those without previous access to wealth and power (Via Wikipedia).

Signified in that visit to Marks, Mississippi, King realized that Civil Rights could not be fully secured until they were able to take on a Human Rights lens.

In one place he said:

“What good does it do to be able to eat at a lunch counter if you can’t buy a hamburger.”

And In another he remarked:

“We must recognize that we can’t solve our problem now until there is a radical redistribution of economic and political power.”

King understood something very deep about our own country: we can pay lip-service to “rights” for some while blocking equality in other spheres of our society.

In other words, one of the ways our underlying philosophy and commitment to beastly economics as a country shows up in who and how we prioritize our spending.

In his sermon at Riverside Church, “Beyond Vietnam” he critiques war just not on grounds of non-violence, he critiques war based on the underlying racism and economics that fund wars.

“A true revolution of values will soon look uneasily on the glaring contrast of poverty and wealth…A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.”

It was this turn towards a critique of beastly economics, and the threat of uplifting the voices of the poor that ultimately got King assassinated.

To resist empire out of faithfulness to something bigger, something more generous and loving, something more universal will always be dangerous.

My Friend, and bible scholar from the Kairos Center at Union Theological Center, Colleen Wessell-McCoy once pointed out that there are many ways to think about poverty (see an interview I did with Colleen on this subject here):

Poverty comes by way of an accident (it is no one’s fault, the system is basically fair); it comes through bad behaviors and bad choices (remember those unjustly labelled “welfare queens”); it is destiny, spiritual, even to be desired (Why take away someone’s destiny?).

But Rev. Dr. King, a pastor in the black church stood in the biblical prophetic tradition alongside the book of Revelation, understanding that there is another way to understand the origins of poverty and that is that poverty is systemic.

Poverty is the result not of a broken system, but of a system that is working. Poverty is the result of beastly economics (see Taking the Widow’s Mite: Economics from A Christian Perspective).

Building the Multitude

King knew that one had to resist this reality of beastly economics as though it were the only one possible, and instead bring people together across racial and class lines, empowering the poor to bring about the changes necessary.

King stood in a long line of actors and agents challenging “the religion of empire” and worked towards building what he called the beloved community and what Revelation calls “The Multitude,” one rooted in a vision of abundance for all people and all creation.

For our part today – what does it mean to be of this multitude, to be a people of love, goodness, goodwill and faith, willing to follow God in the face of empire no matter the cost?

King, in the Poor People’s campaign, reignited this prophetic thread and that work is not done yet.

How might we honor King’s challenge to us to have a revolution of values that touches all aspects of our lives?

How might we honor King, in this long thread of prophetic witness against systems that creates economic conditions that are so harmful to human flourishing, and instead work to build the multitude.

Categories
Featured Sermons

Sermon: The Birth of a New, Contrast Community

This is a message I gave at First Friends Meeting in Greensboro on December 22, 2019 following Revelation 12 and Matthew 1:18ff. Here is the recorded version of the message.

Rev. 12:1   And a great sign appeared in heaven: a woman eclothed with fthe sun, with fthe moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars. 2 She was pregnant and gwas crying out in birth pains and the agony of giving birth. 3 And another sign appeared in heaven: behold, a great hred dragon, iwith seven heads and jten horns, and on his heads kseven diadems. 4 His tail swept down la third of the stars of heaven and mcast them to the earth. And the dragon stood before the woman who was about to give birth, so that when she bore her child nhe might devour it. 5 She gave birth to a male child, oone who is to rule1 all the nations with a rod of iron, but her child was pcaught up to God and to his throne, 6 and the woman fled into the wilderness, where she has a place prepared by God, in which she is to be nourished for q1,260 days.

Rev. 12:7   Now war arose in heaven, rMichael and shis angels fighting against the dragon. And the dragon and his angels fought back, 8 but he was defeated, and there was no longer any place for them in heaven. 9 And tthe great dragon was thrown down, uthat ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, vthe deceiver of the whole world—whe was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him.

Matt. 1:18   Now the birth of uJesus Christ5 took place in this way. vWhen his mother Mary had been betrothed6 to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child wfrom the Holy Spirit. 19 And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling xto put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. 20 But as he considered these things, behold, yan angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will bear a son, and zyou shall call his name Jesus, afor he will save his people from their sins.” 22 bAll this took place cto fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet:

Matt. 1:23    d“Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,

and they shall call his name eImmanuel” 

 (which means, God fwith us). 24 When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, 25 but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And ghe called his name Jesus.


Birthday Stories

In our family, the advent season is extra special. M, our middle daughter, was born on Nov 27, 2009. Just a few days before the start of advent on the liturgical calendar.

L, our oldest daughter, was born on December 19, 2007. She was due on Christmas, but thankfully Emily’s prayers were heard and she was born 6 days before. Now she doesn’t have to comete for spotlight with the Son of Man.

As you can see advent is special in our house the baby Jesus notwithstanding.

Advent is a time of waiting that anticipates arrival. It is very much like the Quaker concept of “expectant waiting.”

There is so much build up to the moment of birth.

One of the practices that we do each year with the kids is we have a special birthday dinner where the kids pick what they want to eat. Sometimes we make a meal, sometimes we go out to eat, but in either case, over dinner Emily and I pitch in to tell our celebrant their birth story.

  • L’s is focused around the anticipation of our first child. Her birth made us parents and changed our lives as a family.
  • M’s birth involves being born in water.
  • C’s involves time and patience.

Each one is special. Each year the details remain more or less consistent – thanks in large part to Emily’s high functioning memory – but they also sway and adapt as we get to know our children more and more.

These stories would change dramatically if there was a traumatic loss, a separation, hopes or promises broken.

Can you think back to your own birth story, and how your family talked about these earlier parts of your life? How has that story shaped you over your life?

Beginnings matter because because they tell us where the rest of the story is going. For better or worse, they orient us to the future.

Both pain and promise are often found within origin stories.
Birth stories have the power of building up or tearing down.

Christmas is the origin story of the church and it matters whether to us it is a sweet and quaint little story, domesticated and pretty, with Mary and Jospeh smiling happily as she gives birth in a stable; or if there is a build up to Revolution and change. If Mary and Joseph are refugees who are on the run and homeless, if there is both hope and fear in Mary’s eyes not just for what is now, but for what she knows is to come, then the story is very different.

If you have a crèche in your home, which we do, which origin story does it symbolize? One in which Jesus is a cute baby or one in which those living on the margins of society, living under occupation of the Roman Empire find hope and revolution?

Origin stories shape who we are and who we are becoming.


This is why I like Revelation 12 as an advent text, as strange as it first appears.

Why on earth would anyone read Revelation for advent? Besides the fact that most of you know I love the book of Revelation as a text that teaches the early Christian community how to resist and not assimilate into Empire, besides that, It was Jaimie, she told me to do it.

Actually – when she asked me to preach she wondered whether there was a way to look at Revelation 12 in the context of advent. Admittedly, this was not something I’d ever considered doing.

But lay Revelation 12 alongside Matthew 1, read them together as dialogue partners, perhaps two parents telling different versions of their child’s birth story.

Revelation 12 is the like the revolutionary’s crèche.

It is known to scholars (Blount) as a “cosmic combat myth,” while others talk about it as an example of myth and a counter-myth.

Here in Revelation 12 we see two competing birth stories, one portent from heaven signified by a pregnant women giving birth and a second portent signified by a great red dragon waiting over her, ready to “devour her child as soon as it was born.”

“Portent” – comes from the greek Semion as in semiotics – meaning signs. Similarly a portent, which I know is a word you all use in normal, everyday conversation, but I had to look it up – means:

“A sign or warning that a momentous or calamitous event is likely to happen.”

Sounds very similar to how we use the word “advent.”

In other words, Revelation 12, is an apocalyptic commentary on the original birth story reminding us that this birth initiated a cosmic conflict between the powers and principalities, between what Biblical scholar WHB calls the “religion of creation” and “the religion of empire.”

Even though we know there has been a conflict between these two religions at least since the time of the tower of Babel, Revelation is telling us that there is something about this birth that brings it to a head.

This is because the birth of Jesus surfaces the possibility of something new. A New, Contrast Community of people who not only do not assimilate into empire and resist its tactics and practices, but one that will actually become a counter-community, revealing instead what God intends for the world. A community seeking to live out Gospel Order.

Then I heard a loud voice in heaven, proclaiming, “Now have come the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Messiah, for the accuser of our comrades has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God.”

– Rev 12:10

The rest of this chapter describes a battle and victory of those who follow the lamb in nonviolent resistance. The marginalized ones, the ones oppressed and crushed by empire, are the ones who are a part of what the text calls the “kingdom of God.”

And when we go back to Matt 1 and our traditional Christmas stories we see that it is Jesus who is representative of these people, he is one of them, he is born to them. Jesus’ birth story tells of a God who shows up to and sides with the poor and victims of empire. Those who the dragon accuses and wishes to devour.

This is the power of the Christmas story.

It is not for gentle babes, born to a happy and stable nuclear family, it is – as Mary the mother of Jesus sings in the Gospel of Luke – for the:

51 scattering of the proud in the thoughts of their hearts;
52 he has brought down the mighty from their thrones
and exalted those of humble estate;
53 he has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich he has sent away empty.

So long as we read the Christmas story alongside Revelation’s critique of empire, we won’t loose site of the fact that this is an alternative origin story to what it means to be the people of God. What it means to be the church.


A New/Old Christmas Story

Revelation 12 reminds us there is far more to the story and urges us to keep its revolutionary character in front of us. If this is the birth story we are working from, than it cannot, will not become a story that builds up some of us up over and against some wicked others,

If this is the birth story we are working from we will refuse to scapegoat others, because we know that Jesus and his family are themselves on the run as scapegoats of empire.

If this is the birth story we are working from we will find ways to resist economics that oppress others because we know that Jesus was born to Palestinian Jews living under Roman occupation who extorted, enslaved, and were poor because of a system that was working to benefit some at the expense of everyone else.

If this is the birth story we are working from than we will join Jesus in the work of building towards an alternative reality, a contrast community, one that Revelation calls the Multitude, and Rev. Dr Martin Luther King, Jr. called the Beloved Community.

This multitude is a re-igniting of what God intended for humanity, a new community rooted in the goodness of creation, the love of God; rooted in the call to love neighbor and enemy alike. This multitude is a community that welcomes and centers the wounded, the betrayed, and others who have been victimized by empire.

It lives in active resistance to empire and empire’s origin stories and myths.

We get to choose which version of the Christmas story we participate in and perpetuate.

We get to choose what the creche symbolizes to us.

Our origin stories matter. And sometimes they need to change.

Let us live into the wake of this revolutionary story by narrating and building alternative communities of resistance, revitalization, and love in the face of empire.

Thank you, Friends.

Queries:

  • What role does origin/creation stories play in the formation of community?
  • What is your origin story?
  • What role does those on the margins and “all of creation” play in the our conceptions of community?
Categories
Books The Biblical

Resisting Empire: The Book of Revelation as Resistance

Purchase Your Copy Here


Note from Wess:

Dear readers of Gathering In Light, my second book, “Resisting Empire: The Book of Revelation as Resistance,” is now published as a paperback.

This edition of the book is updated with new material, a poem by Quaker poet Rashaun Sourles (@rashaunps), a foreward by Wes Howard-Brook, whose work I heavily draw on in my own book, and the afterword by Rev. Darryl Aaron, pastor of Providence Baptist Church, a historic African American Church here in Greensboro, NC.

The book is about the book of Revelation in the New Testament, the one so often used to predict terror, the end of the world, and wild conspiracy theories. It offers a different way into understanding what Revelation is about. If you’re someone who has avoided this book, had it used against you, or are interested in liberation theology reading of Revelation, I think you’ll be interested in Resisting Empire.

It would make for great book and small group studies and if you’re interested in having me speak about the topic in your meeting, church, or podcast hit the contact button above and I’d love to see what we can arrange.

Thanks for your support!
-Wess


Purchase Your Copy Here

Ways to Connect with Wess: If you like this post and/or have feedback you think I should know about feel free to connect with me on Twitter and Telegram @cwdaniels or subscribe via email by clicking here.

Categories
Books

Pre-Order the Print Version of “Resisting Empire”

Hi Friends, many of you has asked about a print version of “Resisting Empire” and it is almost here. You can now pre-order it:

The print version, proudly published by Quaker independent publisher Barclay Press, also has new material that is not in the kindle edition: poetry from @rashaunps, foreward by biblical scholar Wes Howard Brook, and afterword by pastor Rev. Darryl Aaron of Providence Baptist Church here in Greensboro, NC.

Here is some of what Rev. Aaron and Wes Howard Brook writes:

The book of Revelation, according to C. Wess Daniels, is a resistance text for “Angelic Trouble-makers,” who must learn how to remix, understand how scapegoating functions, recognize the shaping and forming powers of liturgy, and discover the composition of the multitude…. I pastor a people who have historically been pushed to the periphery of all existence, even ontologically declared as non-human or three-fifths human. Therefore, to read the “multitude is a beautiful tapestry woven together of all humanity, with those who were lynched, those who were oppressed and victimized, at the center with the lamb. This centering of the victims and marginalized is something that is too often missed within western, white, middle-class Christianity today,” makes my soul happy. This prophetic claim of Daniels places Black people at the heart of God.

–Rev. Darryl Aaron

No other book has been as consistently and wildly misread as has John of Patmos’s visionary narrative. And yet, at the same time, no biblical book carries as much passionate power and imagery aimed at inspiring Jesus-followers to “come out” of the place of imperial violence and domination and to dwell instead in the light- and love-filled realm of God. C. Wess Daniels masterfully and clearly lays out a series of reading strategies and perspectives culled from the best of recent scholarship to invite readers into engagement with John’s vision. If you’ve been drawn to study Revelation but have been stymied as to where or how to start, you can trust Wess’s step-by-step guidance to lead you into the depth and breadth of this unique narrative.

–Wes Howard-Brook

Categories
Sermons

Empire & The Multitude (Rev 7)

Lamb-slain

Here is the message I shared at College Park Baptist Church in Greensboro, NC on July 31, 2016. Cross posted from my medium blog.

The Rally

Thank you for inviting me here this morning [my name is Wess Daniels and I’m a Quaker minister and teacher at Guilford College] and I am glad to see that, after the last few weeks we’ve had, you haven’t all moved to Canada.

Many of us have running in the back of our minds the past two weeks with the RNC and DNC. If you’re like me, I’ve been caught up in all the news, the speeches and taking notes on how not to prepare speeches, and have been interested in the protests and the scandals.

I’ve been closely following twitter hashtags like:

#DemsinPhilly

#RNCinCLE

#BernieOrBust

#ImnotsayingImoutoftouchbut which had less to do with politics but was still funny. Like my friend Greg who tweeted:

#ImNotSayingImOutOfTouchBut when people talk about Minecraft, I always think they are talking about Minesweeper – Link

If you watched any of the two conventions you’ll know that there were a lot of words spoken, and those words, depending on the speakers perspective, tried to explain away or explain causes of things such as: continued gun violence in this country, ongoing terrorist attacks, poverty, issues around women’s rights, immigration, and marriage equality.

Categories
Sermons Uncategorized

Brother’s K, Liturgy and Broken People

10964124593_96108e9f80_k
Old Truck and Shed via Flickr

 

“But they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they did not cling to life even in the face of death.” (Revelation 12:11)

The work of the People

One of the signs of a true artist is a willingness to work patiently and lovingly with even the most inferior materials. -David James Duncan

David James Duncan’s novel “The Brother’s K,” is about a family that lives in Camas, WA. The place where I pastored for 6 years before moving to Greensboro. Papa, one of the main characters in the book, is a paper mill worker who has gone semi-professional in Baseball. He does fairly well as a pitcher for his team until he has his thumb crushed in an accident at the mill.

Consequently, he falls into depression and begins to abuse substances. So in an attempt to regain ground and find some life he builds a shed in the backyard where he begins practicing his pitching again.

Categories
Sketchnotes The Biblical

Revelation #Sketchnotes

Reading Revelation #Sketchnotes by cwd1978
Reading Revelation #Sketchnotes, a photo by cwd1978 on Flickr.

Here are some sketchnotes I’ve put together as a kind of overview of some of the things I’ve tried to focus on as I was reading, studying and preaching through this difficult book. You can find the rest of the posts here.

Categories
Sermons

Revelation is Remix (Revelation 21-22)

Remix and Bob Dylan's Self-Portrait
Remix and Bob Dylan’s Self-Portrait

The ‘Self-Portrait’ as Remix

A couple weeks back I showed you this image [Bob Dylan’s album titled Self-Portrait]. The cover image is one that Dylan himself painted. I couldn’t find any mention of who the cover was supposed to be, but it has a certain resemblance to Pablo Picasso’s own painting also titled “Self-Portrait.” When you line these two images side by side you can see that there is a borrowing or adaptation from the one painting to the other.

There is a second way that Dylan adapts and builds upon the works of others to make up this “self-portrait” album: It’s mostly a collection of other people’s songs slide*.

Categories
Sermons

Economics, Poverty and Crashing the Beast’s Party (Revelation 13, 18)

Andy Warhol Mark of the Beast

Making Heads and Hands of the Mark of the Beast

If there is one aspect of Revelation that has been overused, abused and fallen prey to our constant temptation to make John’s first century letter a document that predicts the future it has to be the mark of the beast. What was the mark of the beast? What does 666 stand for?* There are many questions come up when we read passages like this.

When I read this I automatically gravitate to this unknown feature in the text. What are some of the things you have heard the Mark of Beast represented as?

Mikhail Gorbachev’s Birthmark, Obamacare, Enforced Sunday worship, One world government or The UN, Refers to a specific year, Verichip, Credit Cards

It raises a level of fascination that can be fun to imagine, but there is a problem with trying to figure out the mark: we don’t know the story behind the story. And when we don’t know the story behind the story we begin to read into it our own worldview, our own prejudices, and assumptions and this can really skew our reading and understanding of scripture. So it is essential that when we read this we remember that there is a story behind the story.

Categories
Sermons

Revelation 12 : Liturgy as Formation – What Are We Creating?

Shed
Image from hellojenuine.

“But they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they did not cling to life even in the face of death.” (Revelation 12:11)

The work of the People

One of the signs of a true artist is a willingness to work patiently and lovingly with even the most inferior materials. -David James Duncan

David James Duncan’s novel “The Brother’s K,” is about a family that lives in Camas. Papa is a paper mill worker who has gone semi-professional in Baseball and does fairly well until he has his thumb crushed in an accident at the mill. Consequently he falls into depression and begins to abuse substances. So in an attempt to regain ground and find life his healing he build a shed.